Hermeneutics,  Textual Criticism

The Use of Amos 9 in Acts 15 in JODT

I recently became aware that The Journal of Dispensational Theology published one of my articles in October. The bibliography information is as follows:

Peter J Goeman, “The Role of the LXX in James’ Use of Amos 9:11-12 in Acts 15:15-18” Journal of Dispensational Theology (Summer/Fall 2014): 107-25.

Although the article itself requires a certain proficiency in Greek and Hebrew, I will try to summarize the main point of the article here.

First, notice the comparison between Amos 9 and Acts 15:

Amos 9:11-12 (MT) Amos 9:11-12 (LXX) Acts 15:16-18
In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David, And wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins And rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by My name,” declares the Lord who does this.

(Amos 9:11-12, NASB)

 

On that day I will raise up the tent of David that has fallen, and I will rebuild its things that have fallen, and I will raise up its things that have been destroyed, and I will rebuild it just as the days of the age, so that the remnant of the people, and all the nations upon whom my name was invoked upon them, will search for me,” says the Lord who is making these things.

(Amos 9:11-12, Lexham)

After these things I will return, and I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, and I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,” says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago.

(Acts 15:16-18, NASB)

By paying attention to detail there are a couple important observations to make.

  • The Hebrew and the Greek (LXX) version of Amos 9:11-12 differ significantly. In the article, I argue that the translator of the Greek version of Amos changes the text to have a more universal scope (ie., instead of focusing on Israel to focus on the whole world).
  • James uses the Greek version of Amos 9:11-12 in his quotation, but he makes a few key changes: First, James adds “After these things” which is not found in the Hebrew or the Greek. I argue in the article that he makes this change to show that he is using Amos 9:11-12 as an example of Gentile salvation, not saying Acts 15 is the fulfillment of Amos 9. Second, James changes some key Greek words which demonstrate that he is also quoting from Zechariah 8:22 and Isaiah 45:21 (something that unfortunately cannot be demonstrated in the English).

Given these observations, is it wrong for James to quote the Greek of Amos 9 since it does not accurately reflect the entirety of the Hebrew original? Was James using a bad translation to get his own way at the Jerusalem council? Here is the pertinent paragraph from my article:

First, it is important to remember that the LXX was the Bible for the people of that day. Perhaps it is similar to the time of the English speaking church from eighteenth to the nineteenth centuries. The King James Version was the almost unanimous choice for English speakers; it definitely had imperfections, yet that was the common Bible of the day. Second, James referenced Amos 9:11-12 for a specific reason. Although the LXX does significantly change the context of the passage, James used the LXX to support the point that is specified in the MT. He quoted Amos 9:11-12 to emphasize the point that Gentiles are saved as Gentiles. In both the MT and the LXX, the Gentile inclusion is apparent. Therefore, James used the Greek text in a manner which legitimately supported his stance. The LXX accurately reflects the MT’s original meaning as far as the proposition that James made: Gentiles will be saved as Gentiles in the future, thus the church should not force them to obey Jewish regulations in the present.

In other words, James did not rely on the Greek version of the LXX to prove some special point. Both the Greek of the LXX and the Hebrew of the MT both point out the fact that Gentiles will be saved as Gentiles, therefore, James’ use of the normal everyday Bible to prove that point is no problem whatsoever.

I would love to hear what you think of the article if you get a chance to read it. Otherwise I hope this summary was helpful. Acts 15 is a beautiful passage which is often misunderstood by just glossing over these important details. But, we need to remember that God is the one who is in the details…

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs the Bible Sojourner podcast.

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